How to become a sexual health therapist

Deborah C. Escalante

Certified Sex Therapist FAQ

How do I become a sex therapist?
What do I have to do to be a sex therapist?

Your journey to becoming a sex therapist begins with a master’s degree in a counseling-related field, an internship, and then a license as a Mental Health Counselor, Marriage and Family Therapist, Professional Counselor, or Clinical Social Worker. Psychologists may also become sex therapists.
The next step is to take the additional training in human sexuality and sex therapy education offered by a reputable institution, such as the Sex Therapy Training Institute. You will also need hours of case consultation/supervision to assure that you are competent to treat sex therapy cases.

What is a sex therapist?

A sex therapist is a psychotherapist or psychologist who has taken the additional training in human sexuality and sex therapy education offered by a reputable institution, such as the Sex Therapy Training Institute. The education and the hours of case consultation/supervision assure clients that the sex therapist is competent to treat sexual dysfunctions and disorders such as erectile difficulties, inability to orgasm, or desire differences. They may also specialize with LGBTQI issues, gender transition, sexual abuse, kink/polyamory, childhood concerns, senior sexual challenges, and sex offending.

How much money does a sex therapist make?

Therapy fees vary widely depending on location and experience. Sex therapists may charge one and a half to twice what their fees would be without that title.

What does a sex therapist do?

Sex therapy is a broad umbrella covering such issues as couples with sexual problems, sex and porn addiction, kink/BDSM exploration, sexual trauma, and so much more. Anything that involves sexual behavior and attitudes that cause distress falls under sex therapy.

Can I be a sex therapist if I’m not a therapist?

No, but if you are an educator, nurse, coach, or licensed or certified in another discipline, you may become certified as a clinical sexologist or sexology educator.

What is a Board Certified Sex Therapist?

Many professions have licensing or certification boards, made up of experts in that field. Their purpose is to assure that professionals meet established criteria for excellence in their field. The Therapist Certification Association is one board that certifies Sex Therapists, Sexology Educators, Clinical Sexologists, and other fields that fall under the category of sexology. These include Sex Offender Therapists, Kink Conscious Therapists, and Addiction Therapists.

What are the requirements to get a PhD in sexology/sex therapy?

Prospective students will have earned a Master’s Degree in a healthcare-related field, such as mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, clinical social work, psychology, nursing, medicine, coaching, education, and more. Students do not need a license, only a Master’s Degree.

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Why should I get a PhD in sexology/sex therapy?

A PhD is the highest degree attainable in a profession. It is a source of pride for the person who earns it and it tells the world that this person is not only an expert in the field, but also has contributed something original to the field. In the field of sexology, the title “Doctor” also conveys a sense of trust and gravitas to prospective clients, academia, and the forensic arena.

Do I need a license to take the doctoral program?

No, you do not need a license. It is important, however, to be aware of what you can and can’t do with this degree. This is not a licensable degree, so you will need a psychotherapy license to practice therapy. If you are an educator or coach, you need credentials in those areas to then work as a sexology educator or sex coach. This degree is meant to be adjunctive to your profession.

What can I do with a PhD in sexology?

The majority of our graduates are therapists, so their degree allows them to specialize in the field of sex therapy and use the title “Dr.”
Others are authors, forensic experts, program administrators, or educators and the PhD provides recognition and advancement in their fields.


Like many people, you might wonder: What does a sex therapist do? A sex therapist guides individuals struggling with certain components of sex, such as arousal and performance. These therapists meet with an individual or a couple in a professional setting — usually an office — just like any other mental health practitioner would. Then sex therapists assess the psychological or physical reasons for their clients’ challenges and provide treatment through sex counseling.

Professionals in the mental health, therapy, and counseling fields need to earn state licensure in order to legally work. Although most states do not offer licensure strictly for the sex therapy field, aspiring sex therapists still need some sort of therapy or counseling licensure to practice. Then they can apply for certification from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT).

The certification process requires a graduate degree in a mental health, psychology, or therapy field. Candidates must also complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours. You can learn more details about those requirements, and how to become a sex therapist, below.

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Educational Pathways to Becoming a Sex Therapist

Most states do not outline specific educational requirements for sex therapy. However, to gain certification from AASECT, individuals must fulfill the association’s expectations. Aspiring sex therapists should obtain at least a master’s degree in a mental health field with psychotherapy training. Several sex therapist degrees are available for learners. However, many students choose more common master’s programs in psychology, psychotherapy, psychiatric nursing, professional counseling, family and marriage family, or social work.

Master’s programs generally last two years for full-time students, and learners in these fields learn about psychological theory, along with therapy techniques. Some individuals also continue on to doctoral programs in their fields, which could last 3-7 years and give students additional expertise.

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Obtaining a Sex Therapist License

Sex therapists do not earn licensure in sex therapy. Instead, they can obtain state licensure as mental health counselors or marriage and family therapists. In fact, for certification, AASECT requires applicants to hold licensure in psychology, medicine, social work, counseling, nursing, or marriage and family therapy. Individuals must apply for these through their state licensure boards, which all set different requirements for various types of licenses.

Usually candidates need a master’s or doctoral degree for licensure. They may also need to complete some supervised clinical hours. Check with your state’s licensing board to learn the specifics.

Sex Therapy Certification

A sex therapy certification program equips candidates with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively guide clients as sex therapists. Certification prep programs cover the core knowledge areas of sex therapy, including developing sexuality over the lifespan, sexual orientation, intimacy skills, and diversities in sexual expression.

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Students in the sex therapy programs study scientific subjects, such as sexual and reproductive anatomy, biological sexual functions, and health and mental health factors that influence sexual behavior. Ethics also make up a significant part of the curriculum. Finally, AASECT certification requires candidates to participate in supervised training before they can apply for their certification.

Clinical Experience Requirements

Candidates should fulfill a few different types of clinical experience requirements to qualify for certification. First, they should complete at least 10 hours of structured group experiences meant to explore candidates’ personal values on sexuality. Applicants must also participate in 300 hours of AASECT-supervised clinical treatment, in addition to at least 50 hours of supervision with an AASECT-certified sex therapy supervisor. Candidates can complete these hours either in a group or individual supervision environment, but individual supervision should count for at least 50% of candidates’ hours.

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Certification Renewal Requirements

Once certified, sex therapists must renew their AASECT credential every three years. These professionals should participate in at least 20 continuing education hours during each three-year period. Many sex therapists accomplish this by enrolling in AASECT-sponsored continuing education courses. They can also earn credit in other ways, such as publishing a scholarly article in a journal or book, developing a teaching tool for others in their field, or completing face-to-face supervision with an AASECT-certified supervisor.

Frequently Asked Questions with a Sex Therapist

Interview with a Sex Therapist: Dr. Kate Balestrieri

Dr. Kate Balestrieri

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, certified sex addiction therapist – supervisor, PACT II couples therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy in Beverly Hills and Miami. The team at Modern Intimacy focuses on helping people heal from trauma, addiction, and sex and relationship issues. Follow her on IG at @themodernintimacy and @drkatebalestrieri.

Why did you choose to become a sex therapist?

What does the curriculum model for the sex therapy specialization focus on beyond that of general counseling, psychology, etc?

Describe the impact and importance of sex therapy when working with different populations (e.g., sex offenders and survivors of sexual trauma/discrimination). Does working with these different populations require different levels of training?

Why might someone consider a career as a sex therapist?

Career and Salary Outlook For a Sex Therapist

It’s difficult to find reliable data on sex therapist salary numbers and career outlooks, so instead you may find it useful to look at comparable careers, such as psychologists and mental health counselors. Psychologists earn a median annual salary of $80,370, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Mental health counselors, in comparison, bring home median annual earnings of $46,240. The BLS projects that both fields may grow over the next decade. The number of psychologists may increase by 14% from 2018-28, while the mental health counselor profession could grow by 22% in that same time period.

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